There was a speaker at work today, part of our women’s employee resource group. She was a very interesting woman named Lisa Eggerton, who has made a name of herself by being a leader in the software industry (she’s CMO of BigCommerce). Her talk was really just a chat with the two women with the most authority in the company, which is a wonderful thing right there.
Eggerton gave a lot of good advice, such as not over-volunteering and assuming positive intent, both things of which I am very fond. But one point she made was that when she wanted to make a change in her career path that wasn’t an obvious one, she had to let someone know about it. That made so much sense!
It occurs to me that I am doing a lot with diversity and inclusion at my Austin job, but I never went out and told any company leaders where my interests lie. So, thanks to the prompt in the talk today, I did mention it, aloud, to the two company leaders who led the discussion, and made an appointment to talk to another leader about it.
What can it hurt? Nothing happens all that quickly in the corporate world, so I have plenty of time to keep doing what I’m doing (currently making great content and ramping up new folks). Maybe I can get some additional volunteer DNI work, or maybe they’ll consider me if they develop a position like so many other companies have. At least I will have offered to contribute in whatever way I can.
Still trying to have some fun, be brave, and do good work. That’s pretty much a recipe for a satisfying life. I think focusing on what I can do rather than what I’m unable to do is helpful, too.
I just finished Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, a 2016 book by Jennifer Brown of JBC (Jennifer Brown Consulting). I had a kind of odd experience reading it. I’d be all interested in a part, then it would feel repetitious and I’d zone out. That’s unusual for me. There is lots and lots (and let me say it again, lots) of information here that would help any company wanting to increase inclusion and diversity among the workers.
One thing I found very useful was that Brown stresses that the younger people and non-people managers need to be both consulted and listened to, since that’s where the diversity is usually found. Including these voices and perspectives in decision making is one very helpful way to create a more inclusive workplace.
In fact, Brown had a message just for me:
The golden rule, treating others as you would like to be treated, is out. The platinum rule is in: treat others as THEY would like to be treated. You will have to learn to ask what that entails.
I’ll be revising all my little sticky notes at once.
Since I work with ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) where I work, I especially enjoyed Brown’s history of ERGs and thoughts on their future. She rightfully notes that you can’t just start them and ignore them; they need to be nurtured and their contributions valued. Employees also need to know that the work they do on ERGs reflects well on them. There’s also information on how ERGs may change in the future, once the more diverse and inclusive workspaces become the norm.
And then, what do you do with all the straight white cisgender men? Do you leave them out! Not at all! I love how Brown carefully lays out roles and opportunities for participation and inclusion in ERGs for them. She knows perfectly well that a lot of her readers will BE these guys, many of whom want to help make a better workplace for all, but don’t want to be perceived as trying to dominate. I also got quite a few “aha” moments out of a section (which I’d like to share at my workplace) about how helpful executive sponsors can be when they really understand the role and embrace it.
And about those open offices
My little heart welled up with satisfaction when Brown talked about whether the new open-plan offices really spark creativity, foster communication, and increase transparency. This is done for millennials AND because it costs a lot less than cubicles or enclosed offices. A large survey found that the most satisfied workers had enclosed offices. And that wasn’t just introverted technical writers like me!
Let me just slip in that I’ve not been impressed with the industrial/open setup we have where I work, mainly because I so rarely ever see anyone using those open collaboration areas. I’m glad, because when you do, everyone can hear you and it’s disruptive. When we were all together, it was really distracting when everyone around you was on a separate Zoom call, and you could certainly hear everything. So executives would have to go hid in tiny “focus rooms” to talk about sensitive issues, where they could not use their large multiple monitors and other helpful things. Oh well, there I go again.
The really helpful parts of the book that I’ve just talked about are why I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in creating a workplace where everyone’s talents, perspectives, and abilities are valued. I did find myself becoming annoyed by how much Brown talks about how great her own company is, and I am not at all sure why, but some of her attempts to share her personal stories fell a little flat with me. You’d think I’d be feeling all empathetic to someone who also wanted to be a classical singer (she did opera, I did choral music) but ruined their voice.
Well, we can’t like everyone right off the bat, can we? And maybe I had too much in common with her, so she annoyed me. I get told I brag a lot, so that’s a grain of truth I’ll mull over. Also, why do I turn everything into self-examination? My introspection can even annoy me!
Back to the book, shall we? It has a glossary that has got to be helpful for Boomers who don’t know all the current words for concepts around diversity and inclusion like cisgender, executive sponsor, LGBTQ, etc. I even encountered some new terms, like this one:
Holacracy: an organizational management strategy in which a company’s governance and decision making are distributed evenly among self-organized teams. Individual employees are viewed as both a whole group and part of a larger group. [There aren’t many of these, she says.]
I think many parts of this book are designed to make you feel uncomfortable, and that’s intended. Brown is yet another expert who wants us all to get uncomfortable with discomfort, which is what many groups of people have no choice about. It’s a new world, and it takes flexibility and some vulnerability to embrace the good parts of it, while accepting that it isn’t perfect either.
I figure, I either accept it or I retire, like the remaining few of us younger Baby Boomers!
The short answer to that question is: all of us. Bias is normal for humans, and there’s no way to eliminate it; it’s part of being human. There are, by the way, both positive and negative biases (we are biased toward the kinds of people who most resemble you or share your beliefs, while people who don’t fit into our ideas of “normal” often engender negative biases). Anyway, I’m not here to write a book about bias (go here for more info). I just want to make it clear that there’s no way to get around having unconscious biases, because all of us can’t be aware of everything that’s influencing us or we’d be bombarded by thoughts. Our unconscious biases are part of what led humans to succeed (being biased against funny-looking strangers probably saved a lot of past people).
Why I’m thinking about this today is that I have been helping out with a diversity and inclusion initiative at my job. One of the things I said I’d do was evaluate some potential training courses on unconscious (or implicit) bias. There’s nothing this old instructional designer likes better than evaluating online training, so I was happy to do so.
I went through two different courses. In one of them, the presenter repeated so many times that unconscious bias is normal that I’m pretty sure THAT is seared into my unconscious. But I see why they did that: you don’t want people feeling guilty or that they’re a bad person for having them. That first course reminded me that I’ve been reading a lot about unconscious bias in the books about race in the US, so I was feeling all good about myself. The course encouraged me to write down biases that might pop up into my head while I was learning, and sure enough a big ole list started growing.
The second training was more scientific than the first, and I enjoyed that. It also had some exercises in identifying bias that I really enjoyed. Sure enough, I have a bias toward males in certain roles (science rather than art). And I totally messed up another exercise that proved the same thing. These results make a good point, that many of us retain biases that aren’t even in our own self-interest, thanks to cultural traditions, media depictions, etc.
Am I Biased?
Heck yeah, I’m biased. Some of them I’m more conscious of than others, because, like the trainings pointed out, by introspection and careful observation, you CAN see some of your biases and make an effort to mitigate them in the workplace (and beyond). Also, by actually exposing yourself to members of groups you have an unconscious bias toward, you can start to see each person as an individual, rather than a group member. I’m eternally grateful for linguistics classes and factory jobs for exposing me to people outside my in-group and letting me see them for themselves.
Here are a few biases I’ve made an effort to work through, and how I think I got them:
People with tattoos (blame my mom)
Muslim men (blame a long string of horny married men in college/grad school)
Black people (blame growing up in the South in the 60s)
Fraternity members (blame college)
Smokers (also blame my late mother, who died of lung cancer)
I’m not saying I’ve eliminated my biases, but I know they are there, and now I can make a conscious effort to treat people as people. I’ve benefited from this a lot. Now the bias is just a twinge, which I acknowledge and move on really quickly.
Now, other biases I wrote down I have a harder time with. As I wrote them down, I could readily see that some of these are really silly. I also can see where some of the biases are based on bad experiences, formed in self defense, and related to safety (like the Muslim men one, which required many years of meeting Muslim guys who did not try to proposition or assault me or my friends). Here are some silly ones that I need to work on. I have biases against people:
With strong body odor
With dirty hair
With tongue piercings
With poor dental hygiene
From New York (rudeness)
From California (constant bragging)
Who speak or write with poor grammar in formal/business settings (as opposed to cultural identity things like Tex Mex or Black English, which don’t bother me, or informal slang)
A lot of these look to me like things my mother would have said denote “low class,” and I got it drilled into me that no matter what I did, I was not to appear like “white trash” (Mom’s words). This verifies that biases against “out” groups from your childhood are hard to get rid of, even in the face of experiences that prove them wrong. The New York and California things are based on personal experiences, and I know perfectly well they are stereotypes. They are just very sticky to me. Do you have any like that?
Biases That Protect
A couple of the biases I wrote down are pretty obviously based on protecting myself from negative consequences (real or imagined). For example, I am biased against narcissists, and that’s based on how I’ve seen friends treated and how hard these people are to eliminate once they attach themselves to you. Now, narcissists can’t help being who they are, since it’s a mental illness. And I need to not treat them differently in the workplace, but I’ll avoid them in personal relationships as much as I can, to protect me. Do you avoid people with certain personality types?
While I’m being honest, I’ll admit to being biased against people who display giant Trump flags on their property or pick-up trucks. In my mind, I see them as the radical types who actually believe I have an agenda to take away their rights or force them to have an abortion. That’s probably not true of most of them. But, thanks to the media and reading comments on social media, this one is stuck within me. Note, however, that I am perfectly capable of working with, finding commonalities with, and even living with people who voted differently from me. How about you?
The final self-protection bias is one I am working really, really hard to get rid of, but it’s sort of funny. You see, I once worked for the great Stephen Wolfram, who is a certified genius with a heart of gold, but at least as a younger man was hard to work for. There was an incredible amount of berating, cursing, odd demands, and eccentricities to negotiate (I could write a book, but I won’t; we both have fond memories of each other…now). The thing is, he had a particular English accent based on where he was born and educated. Coincidentally, one of my coworkers at Planview has the exact same accent, being from the same area. So, every time this other person talks, I hear Wolfram. Everything that person says sounds like a criticism or a put-down (it doesn’t help that sometimes it IS that), but I have to make a huge effort to separate the two of them. My Wolfram PTSD is not doing me any favors!
I wonder how many of us deal with biases like that? I’d love to hear some stories.
In any case, there’s no doubt in my mind that my biases that popped into my head are just scratching the surface and that there are many more hiding down deep in the recesses of my subconscious, helping me make judgments quickly, but not necessarily fairly. Acknowledging them is a good start, as long as it’s followed by making the effort to eliminate them in important business activities like hiring, reviewing, and such. I’m on it.
PS: I just ran across an article that provides some great ways to open up conversations with people toward whom you may have negative biases. Check it out!
Lately “the media” gets a lot of flak for trying to push its subversive agenda onto all of us innocent consumers of information. I have no argument with those claims, but I don’t necessarily see it as bad. I know that the television I watched, the books I read, and the magazines I looked at affected how I perceive the culture I grew up in.
I was convinced that “normal” people were thin, white people with a couple of children who drank sophisticated cocktails. The norm for women was to be thin, blonde, blue-eyed and with the rare combination of flat stomach and large breasts. Normal men had lots of hair, but could have a little weight on them, because that made them look successful. I thought all this, because that’s what I saw in the media (not in real life).
One of the reasons I’m SO glad that the women’s movement, Black Lives Matter and organizations acknowledging that people come in different sizes, abilities, and shapes have been becoming louder and louder. And that mass media, with its agenda-promoting engine, has been helping lately. It’s an uphill battle to make our ads, shows, and print material look like “us,” but it’s happening.
First Example: Fashion
I have been reading InStyle magazine since it came out, and I have always been fond of its editorial direction. It’s one of the first fashion magazines I’ve read that have had a real pro-woman focus. They have a series of “bad-ass women” that features a huge range of women, not all of whom are celebrities. It makes me feel so good to see the occasional wrinkled face and the many skin tones in the photos.
The most recent issue is one you should pick up. The beauty issue blew me away. So many races, hair types, sizes, and even ages were features, all of whom are represented as models of beauty. THIS is how you change cultural norms. If they keep telling us that people with African, Asian, Indian, and other heritages are beautiful, even people with old ideas will gradually change. I really think this is true.
Every page I turned presented different ideas of beauty. Yes, there were pale, skinny people. But there were also so many others in the mix. That’s what I want to see, all the ways in which we can be beautiful. And yes, there are beautiful trans women in there, too.
Second Example: Texas Parks and Wildlife
I have a soft spot for these folks, since I’ve been involved in so many of their really great programs over the years. But this month’s Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine warmed my heart. The letter from the editor talked about how they will be depicting lots and lots of different types of Texans going forward (they did have a lot of white guys before).
It’s not something you really notice until there’s a change, and then you just have to smile. There was a happy Hispanic man catching a redfish, a black family on a fishing pier, and even a man hunting from a wheelchair (must be a cool wheelchair!).
This is really important for them to do, because we note a lack of diversity in our Master Naturalist program, and the TPWD has written about the perception among some that certain groups just don’t “do” camping, fishing, hiking, and hunting. If we see more and more photos of all kinds of people engaged in outdoor activities, maybe people in all groups will feel more welcome to get out there and have some fun.
Don’t we ALL deserve some outdoor fun, relaxation, and exercise?
Third Example: HGTV
I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again. I am really loyal to HGTV, because they started featuring diverse families on their home shows long before other networks did that kind of thing. And they never presented them as, “Oooh, look, these are GAY people!” No, they presented them as bickering couples, interesting personalities, and folks who just want to buy or fix up a house.
And they do the same with people with disabilities. They’ll talk about the importance of finding or remodeling a home to make it comfortable for the residents, but they treat them respectfully and focus on the whole family.
By showing diverse groups, they make the wide variety of people in the US and Canada into a feature, but a normal feature, not something to crow about. That’s what I want, for all of us to be “normal,” no matter what.
So there, the media and its subversive message of inclusion has made me darned happy.
I probably mean who are MY friends. I’m not talking about my inner circle of friends and family, which is a small number, like with most people. I mean the larger group of folks I care about, respect, and am interested in hearing from.
Thanks to my career on the internet, I know and have gotten pretty close to lots of people from a wide range of backgrounds. We all have something in common that ties us together, but we’re all different, too. I honestly like that, even though I also like being around my “tribe” as well, which is very human.
Most of the people I know are great about respecting the rights of others to express themselves, even when they are TOTALLY WRONG (i.e., on the other side of an issue). A few aren’t. I’m okay with that, unless I get accused of thinking or believing something I don’t think or believe.
I got my feelings hurt pretty badly when I shared the recent news article about people who,as a group, aren’t big on following rules sinking their compatriots’ boats by going too fast in a parade. I thought it was a funny example of logical consequences. (I am having trouble linking to an article, so just Google “Lake Travis boat parade” and it will come up.
Someone took offense to my posting it, even though I didn’t comment, and said: “Pretty sad that you take pleasure in this. I’ll bet you wish some of these people had drowned.”
Wow. That’s the kind of thing that hurts a lot. Did they really believe that? Knowing I’m a pacifist, nonviolent, Buddhist-leaning tree-hugger?
So yeah, I said that was mean. But I didn’t delete this person’s comments, since they have a right to insult me and lump me into some hypothetical evil group of people. On the other hand, I didn’t delete any subsequent comments, some of which agreed and some that didn’t. Everyone gets a say.
Im not surprised someone treated me like that. I’m learning that people who speak out, in today’s climate, will get bashed. Others have it lots worse, so I’m grateful for the kindness of people I know. Maybe that’s what matters more to me than beliefs, kindness.
I just hope the bashers (ha ha autocorrect hat it as badgers) stick to words! Dialog or one-sided rants are fine. But I’m against hurting others or their businesses because you disagree on things. I want to hear all sides, even when it’s hard. But I’m not super. I have to deal with my own knee-jerk reactions. Don’t we all?
What I Discovered
After all this, I checked my Facebook friends list. I was relieved to see quite a few people I care about who disagree politically or socially. This is GOOD. I don’t want to isolate myself in my comfort zone!
I want to share what I wrote on Facebook, mainly as a record for myself, but also to try to say how much I care for all my friends and family. Please don’t think I’m a horrible stereotype!
My Post.It’s Long.
I just culled my friends list. I saw a beautiful parade of faces from all over the world, in every color. From teens to my elders, there they were. Some I hear from often, some haven’t posted in years. I just like seeing their precious faces. Who did I cull? A couple of leftover fake people, people who have passed from this life (cause I get sad at their birthdays), and a lot of animals who long ago passed over the Rainbow Bridge.
Who did I keep? A large group of very diverse people I truly care about. Family, old friends, new friends, locals, people in other hemispheres, people from the whole spiritual spectrum (Yes, including Christians, Jews, Muslim, Buddhists, Wiccan, agnostics, and atheists). Straight, gay, trans, questioning, bi, gender fluid—they’re all good to me. There are people across the range of political and social groups, too (that’s right, from MAGA to Antifa to Communist to pacifists to gun rights activists to Capitalist to Socialist to fans of dictators to fans of the US Constitution (many interpretations) to people who just don’t care).
I’ve kept people who are vocal about their beliefs. I’ve kept people I agree with. I will keep people I disagree with. I’ve kept people who don’t post controversial things and people who do. Why? Because we all get to express ourselves however WE see fit.
We have the option to scroll by things that bother us or to react. Then we deal with the consequences. When I screw up, I can count on others to point it out. I am not going to censor friends I agree with or disagree with. I’m not going to invite people I disagree with to leave. Nope. We all get to stay.
Sometimes my humor upsets people. I hate that! But I’ll keep trying. If I hurt your feelings, tell me. I’ll do the same, though. Thanks to all of my diverse friends for sticking with me in these troubled times. I treasure YOU.
Take care friends. The US is in a bad place and it will get worse the rest of the year, I’m afraid. Do your best not to pigeonhole your friends, acquaintances, and family. Try?